John Miller, reporting for CBS’ “60 Minutes,” found himself the target of ridicule on social media for his Sunday “exposé” on the National Security Agency (NSA). The segment, which takes viewers through some portions of the NSA building, has been characterized as puff piece with Miller soft-balling questions to Gen. Keith Alexander, the agency’s director and head of the U.S. Cyber Command, and NSA Analyst Stephen Benitez. Here are four questions Miller, a former U.S. Department of National Intelligence employee who reportedly is preparing to join the New York Police Department, missed or didn’t press hard enough to get answered:
1. Why did Alexander and National Intelligence Director James Clapper tell Congress that NSA wasn’t collecting U.S. citizens’ personal data when it really was?
In a March hearing, Clapper told Congress that no data was “wittingly” collected, according to a letter he sent in June to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who is on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Alexander was quoted in the letter as saying, “The story that we have millions or hundreds of millions of dossiers on people is completely false.” During the interview with Miller, he conceded the NSA was collecting some data, arguing, “How do you know when the bad guy who’s using those same communications that my daughters use, is in the United States trying to do something bad?”
2. Why were employees using NSA tactics to spy on their love interests?
“Nobody [in the NSA] willfully or knowingly trying to break the law,” Alexander said. Miller did point out that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court thought differently, saying “the NSA systematically transgressed both its own court-appointed limits in bulk Internet data collection programs.” But he didn’t bring up that NSA employees have admittedly abused their access in the past. Most notably, many employees used the NSA’s databases to gather intelligence on significant others and exes, violations known under the spycraft label LOVEINT. There was also no mention of the nearly 3,000 incidents of unauthorized data collection by NSA employees discovered over the course of internal investigations, which The Washington Post first reported.
3. What can the NSA get from spying on Google and Yahoo that it can’t get directly?
Miller acknowledged the agency openly cooperates with the two Internet giants, Apple and others to access user information. However, the NSA still infiltrated Google and Yahoo’s data centers per documents released by NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden. Alexander dodged a similar question when Miller asked if the NSA hacked into U.S. Internet companies’ foreign data centers: “No, that’s not correct,” Alexander said. “We do target terrorist communications. And terrorists use communications from Google, from Yahoo, and from other service providers. So our objective is to collect those communications no matter where they are.” Alexander’s comments echoed those of his predecessor, Michael Hayden, but still didn’t address the need to gather information secretly from companies they work with. Since the revelation, Google, Yahoo and six other tech companies have asked the NSA to revise their agreements after Snowden documents revealed the agency spied on ‘World of Warcraft’ video game users.
4. Does the NSA ever track people’s cell phone call locations and to what extent?
Miller and Alexander discussed phone monitoring, with Alexander skirting the issue saying, “We’re defending this country from future terrorist attacks and we’re defending our civil liberties and privacy. There’s no reason that we would listen to the phone calls of Americans. There’s no intelligence value in that. There’s no reason that we’d want to read their email. There is no intelligence value in that.” Miller’s narration goes on to say that the NSA only collects “metadata” of phone records for more than 300 million Americans that reveal the number from which a call originated and the one receiving the call. That metadata can also include information about where the call was placed, using GPS technology that most phones have these days. Numerous reports have surfaced on how the NSA uses cellphone tracking data, and that it collects billions of such records world wide each day. But geolocation tracking never came up.
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